20 April 2014

Borders and Permits (part 2)

You are traveling into or out of the US with your violin, and you are nervous. You've heard about instruments and/or bows being seized at the border. What do you do?

Potential problems

Certain species of plants and animals are "listed", meaning that there are restrictions placed on their import or export, either by US law or by International Treaty. Crossing a border with your personal property counts as "import/export" under these laws. Unfortunately, a number of materials used by luthiers are now "listed" So there is a very real possibility that you could run into trouble at the border.

The bow

  • Bow tip - it may be made of elephant ivory
  • Grip - may be made of lizard skin or snakeskin
  • Frog dots and buttons - probably mother of pearl or other shell
  • Stick itself may be pernambuco (a CITES-listed species)
  • Frog is ebony (but only Madagascar ebony is currently listed)

The violin

  • Fittings may be rosewood or ebony (but only certain species are a problem)
  • Fingerboard is ebony (again, only certain species are a problem)
  • There may be decorative elements that include ivory or shell
Maybe your instrument has no problems. The woods are all from permitted sources, your bow tip is bone or mammoth ivory, the grip is goatskin, and there are no pearl dots. But, more likely, you've always thought the tip was ivory - but it's 50 years old, that's pre-ivory ban, surely? And your bow has oystershell mother of pearl; that's not endangered.

What do you do?

All wildlife products, listed or not, must be declared at the border (that includes all mother-of-pearl, since even farmed oysters are considered "wildlife"), but only a few species are actually listed under the ESA (Endangered Species Act) or CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Only listed species require a permit. 

So first, determine if your instrument contains a listed species. 

If it does not, DOCUMENT this. Keep whatever records you have. Ask makers, repairers, appraisers to provide a statement of materials used. 

If the instrument/bow DOES include a listed species, you need to apply for a permit . Use form 3-200-23 for animal products (ivory, pearl) and 3-200-32 for plant species (pernambuco, Brazilian rosewood). It would be best to apply at least 2 months ahead of travel. 

In general, you will need the scientific name of the species, place of origin, and estimated age of original export/import. Originally, they wanted export permits from the country of origin and an import permit from the US, but these documents were not historically issued at the time many of today's bows were imported. Believe it or not, the FWS people ARE willing to work with us on this. 

Even if they are willing to work with us on the paperwork, there is another problem. You have to go in and out via a "designated port", where FWS have the facilities to examine the item. Unfortunately there are only 18 FWS-designated ports. The FWS rep at Mondomusica said it might be possible, by prearrangement, to use a different port, but it would be subject to their ability to send agents to meet you. I assume there would be a fee for this. 
The FWS is working with APHIS, the League of American Orchestras, and other organizations to develop an "instrument passport" system, but it is not yet functional. There will also be an orchestra/exhibition permit, that will cover a collection of instruments traveling together. 

Plant species regulations are less stringent than those for wildlife products. The APHIS rep at the Mondomusica talk said that they were not interested in finished products, only raw materials, so individual finished bows of pernambuco would not need permits. However, I have not yet found that documented on their website, and it doesn't entirely jive with the published directive to use form 3-200-32. I suspect the form is only for raw wood import, but I would call APHIS to verify this, and if necessary, submit the form anyway.

So that's the status at the moment. 

No permit needed

The problem with all of this, as I see it, is if at the start you determine your instrument does NOT have any listed material, or even anything that needs to be declared. Your bow has a synthetic tip, the grip is goatskin, and there is no pearl. So you happily go to the 'nothing to declare' line. But some customs agent decides that you should have declared that "ivory" tip, and asks for your permits, which of course you don't have, and he seizes the bow as contraband. He is wrong, and you can appeal, and (in as simple a case as this) it will get sorted out in a couple of weeks. But in the meantime, it is a hassle, and you don't have your bow.
One solution is to have a 'no permit needed' document. Another solution is to use something obviously synthetic. Bow tip material that fluoresces violently under UV is one possibility.

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